Steven Gurrola insists he’s an easygoing guy who likes to joke around and have fun with his teammates — off the field.
On the field, well, that’s a different story.
“He’s a warrior,” offensive line coach Jim Michalczik said. “He likes to battle. Sometimes he even goes a little too far, and we have to rein him in a bit. He has that warrior mentality. Those are the types of guys you want as a line coach.
“You want that guy who will go fight and compete, that guy who will say, ‘Don’t mess with my teammates.’ ”
Added coach Rich Rodriguez: “He’s one who loves football and likes the physical part of it.”
This is the same guy who greets most everyone with a smile and a handshake and says he likes to “joke around with my teammates and make it a family.”
The 6-foot-2-inch, 286-pound lineman is nice off the field and mean on it. But, of course, it’s more complicated that than.
“I don’t know if it’s mean; he just wants to win,” Michalczik said. “He wants to compete and win the war. I guess that is a little bit of a mean streak.”
Gurrola isn’t really sure how he formed his mentality. As a former wrestler at Phoenix Washington High School, Gurrola always liked being physical. On the football field, he never needed an excuse to knock a defensive lineman on his backside.
But he didn’t really start taking the battles personally until his two-year stint at Glendale Community College.
“My coach used to tell me to go out there to win,” Gurrola said. “He’d always say ‘You’re not there to lose, you’re there to win every play.’ Coach ‘M’ and Coach Rod are always saying that, too; every play, don’t ever be defeated. I’ve really taken all that to heart.
“I don’t ever want to lose.”
Gurrola started all 13 games for the Wildcats last season, his first in Tucson following two years of junior college ball. He helped Ka’Deem Carey rush for 1,885 yards and 19 touchdowns, and Gurrola saw his quarterback, B.J. Denker, get sacked just 17 times in 13 games. Unlike most junior college signees, Gurrola didn’t arrive at the UA as a midyear enrollee. Instead, he showed up with the rest of the incoming class last summer and still managed to win the starting job at center.
“We were just trying to get him up to speed where he could function,” Michalczik said. “Now we’re trying to take it to another level.”
For that to happen, Gurrola said he has to continue getting stronger. Too many times last year, defensive linemen won the play against the UA’s center. Gurrola still remembers the way Washington’s Danny Shelton played against him a year ago; the UA center said he’s eager for a rematch this season.
Shelton is listed at 6-2, 339. Gurrola isn’t making up 53 pounds anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean he can’t win more plays against him this year.
The center started participating in something head strength and conditioning coach Chris Allen calls ‘D-Block,’ where players work out in the weight room following one of Rodriguez’s demanding practices.
“I wasn’t strong enough at times last year,” Gurrola said. “I’d go against (teammate Tevin) Hood in practice, and he was just stronger than me. That’s what drove me. I’m winning a lot more battles now. I’m ready for the big guys. Danny Shelton, he’s been on my head for a while now.
“The extra sessions in the weight room helped, and it goes with what Coach Rod says: You should be able to run 40-yard sprints at the end of practice. If you can run the sprints, you can work out.”
But then once the workout is over, it’s back to “nice Steven.”
“He’s a good guy,” Rodriguez said. “He’s fun to have around. He’s a guy who will come in the office when he doesn’t have to. Just to pop in and say hello. I wish we had him for more than two years, but he’s making the best of those two years.”
Michalczik said he enjoys having Gurrola around.
“He’s very passionate about the game,” the offensive line coach said. “He wants to be better. In the old days, you called guys like him ‘gym rats.’ He just loves the sport. You wish they were all like that.”